David Hammond talks to Donnie Madia about the response of restaurants to COVID over the last year and a half:

Day One, we had maybe twenty people on a call, Tom Colicchio, Andrew Zimmern and others, and on that day, we found a certain amount of money to hire a lobbyist, who is still with us. The common thread throughout this pandemic has been, ‘How are our independent restaurants going to survive and persevere?’ We kept working the phones, working our political friendships, and for the first time, we had the fortitude to negotiate and put a lobbyist on our side and work with us. Having a lobbyist also helped the Illinois Restaurant Association and the National Restaurant Association, because now everyone is covered from the smallest mom-and-pop restaurant on 49th and Pulaski all the way to the top-tier restaurant groups across the country. Within eight months or so, the original members of the Independent Restaurant Coalition went in front of the President and sat with him to tell him what restaurants needed. We were able to shape the PPP, and we explained that we needed a stable stimulation fund to get us through this pandemic. Political people now had an idea of what restaurants go through, how under the name of a famous chef there might be one-hundred employees, and these people have families, so there may be 500 people connected with that one restaurant. Now they’re informed, they realize that restaurants are the largest private-sector business in the nation.

If you’re still wondering why Blackbird had to close, he explains: “There was room for like ten people in the dining room. Where’s the energy, where’s the vibe?”


Louisa Chu catches a brewery in the process of… making good food:

Just look at the menu: house-made sausages in corn dogs ($11), kimchi butter on a Gulf shrimp tartine ($18), mignonette granita on wood-fired oysters ($4 each). Whom does [chef/co-owner] Bumba think he’s fooling?

This is a restaurant first, brewery second. Didn’t he really start more from a chef’s perspective than a brewery?

“One hundred percent,” Bumba admitted.

It’s Milk Money Brewing in LaGrange, and if it sounds familiar, that’s because Josh Noel has already reviewed the beer.


Grimod has a review of Ever, though it starts with a recounting of the complex series of events that ended Grace and launched Ever in the midst of the pandemic:

The restaurant designed to offer the “best ever” expression of Duffy’s cuisine now, necessarily, would be judged by its stewardship of public health. Ever’s world-building would inevitably be punctured by the concerns of the outside world. The artifice by which mere consumption becomes something magical would be that much harder to sustain. For luxury consumers, in accordance with a higher ticket price, typically take their safety for granted… But paranoia–if not downright fear–had grown into an essential mental state. Impressing consumers through the establishment’s devotion to their safety then lulling them to some baseline of comfort now proved Ever’s essential tasks.

On to the review, a lengthy examination of how some of the dishes and ingredients have evolved since Ever opened. One example:

Guests are presented with the vessel and invited to peel off the seal. This releases a plume of smoke from the interior of the container and reveals a sticky sauce on the lid’s underside. Instructions are given to lick that sauce before diving into the dish’s contents with your spoon. The process engages both a sense of wonder (the smoke and the vessel’s indiscernible contents) and one of nostalgia (the lid). Surely, licking that layer of yogurt off the seal’s underside is a ritual indulged in by some wide swath of the public–but it feels like a guilty pleasure. There’s an intimacy to the process that is subverted as it’s transported into a fine dining setting. The diner feels vulnerable for a second, but they cannot help but laugh. Ever’s foreboding ambiance transforms into a stage upon which the most meager of pleasures is allowed to shine. The restaurant makes clear that things are not as serious as they first appear.


Titus Ruscitti went to check out Rosemary, but found dogs invading the outdoor dining space. Read it all here.

He also checks out a new banh mi place doing bahn mi paninis (bahninis?) And visits Cafe Istanbul where he sensibly centers in on my favorite thing there:

The Cağ kebabı (Cag Kebab) here is arguably Chicago’s best prep of spit grilled meat. It’s a regional specialty consisting of a horizontally grilled cone of lamb meat. Cooked over live fire and sliced “on the skewer” which is inserted into the meat and then sliced off resulting in an extra long piece of spit grilled fatty lamb. An absolute stunner and something that’s pretty rare outside Istanbul and Erzurum, the latter being a city in Eastern Turkey where Cag Kebab is said to have originated. Turkey is near the top of my bucketlist largely due to dishes like this. Having it in Chicago is a treat.


This is incredibly cool: a group of the city’s oldest bakeries—you know, the Dinkel’s/Reuter’s type—have had a secret society where they gather and network about bakery stuff since the 1930s. It’s called Bakers’ Dozen, because of course it was founded with 13 members. There’s an article, and also a podcast at the bottom of the page.


Food & Wine put out this year’s Best New Chefs issue and it’s racially diverse… and entirely Chicago-free. On the one hand it speaks to how food has improved across the country that Chicago isn’t guaranteed a slot any more. Still, it’s not just that this is one year off—we haven’t made the list since Diana Davila in 2018.


But CN Traveler thinks we’re not done yet: “Chicago’s thoughtful new spaces make the city worth revisiting,” the headline says. Well, we could use some new spaces (they cite Esme and Chikatana, among others), since the opening paragraph namechecks Spiaggia (closed for good since March 2020) and invents a supposed local favorite, “Polish-sausage subs the length of your arm.”

8. OG

Speaking of Polish sausages (not as long as your arm, UIC is trying to stop Jim’s Original, legendary Polish sausage place in what was once the Maxwell Street area from being open all night, as it has been for decades, because they say it attracts crime to the area:

The new hours kicked in Friday. When late-night customers pulled up to the cinder block building, some of them didn’t take too kindly to being turned away.

“The customers were very upset,” said Betty Domagala, a manager who has worked at Jim’s for 27 of its 83 years. “The [night] general manager got called names. We had security here.”

That’s right—they caused a security situation!


Congrats to Birrieria Ocotlan, in Little Village and on 106th street, which took third place on a nationwide best Mexican restaurant list from the Latino-focused foodservice publication El Restaurante and Jarritos:

Reyes is living up to the reputation of his last name – Birreria [sic] Ocotlan, which has two locations, is widely praised for its traditional goat and beef birria. “The birria and this restaurant are the most authentic taste and feel that you can get outside of Mexico here in Chicago,” wrote customer Gerardo Orozco in his nomination of Reyes.


Anthony Todd looks back at some of the places that closed in the last year and a half. I don’t think anyone else has named Farmhouse:

From the rooftop garden to its own brand of cider, Farmhouse was one of the few restaurants that treated local eating like more than a flashy trend, while also managing to keep prices reasonable and food approachable.


Steve Dolinsky on a company, Heaven’s Honey, supplying local honey to local restaurants—and supporting farmers with a new revenue source.


Oriole reopened in July—will anyone review it, which is to say, will any organization come up with the scratch to send a reviewer there? Seems doubtful, but in the meantime friend of Fooditor Matthew Mirapaul visited both Oriole and Kumiko and posted about them on Facebook. Here’s the new, expanded Oriole:

Arriving diners are served a few bites at the bar, stop at a kitchen counter for another, and then move to their table for the majority of the meal. It’s a bigger stage, but the star of the show remains Chef Noah Sandoval’s food, enhanced by GM Cara Sandoval’s focus on friendly but perfectly pitched service.

I’d go on but I don’t want to give too many dishes away; follow the link if you want to know. And Kumiko:

Highlights? Unlike every other oyster I’ve had here in the past months, Kumiko’s weren’t overwhelmed by their mignonette. An unusual creation of zucchini, binchotan-grilled beef and roasted tallow hollandaise was a plush delight. The Japanese fried chicken had just the right crunch but remained juicy beneath the crust. Our pricey wagyu sando needed a little more textural contrast but was still tasty.

But our deep-fried pork-loin katsu was a crispy but succulent triumph, rivaling the best tonkatsu I’ve had in Tokyo.


I was observing last week that I hadn’t heard anything about what dinner at Robert et Fils was really like, and now here’s friend of Fooditor Chris Chacko with a tweet that should make you want to check it out.


I can’t say I was wowed by the prospect of a Boka Italian restaurant in the former Bellemore/Embeya space, but Kevin Boehm just posted some pictures of the interior of the upcoming Alla Vita at Instagram—and they’re stunning. They don’t do things by half measures, for sure.


It’s no surprise that, especially as restaurant culture developed in the 19th century, it began to figure in literature of the period—and how it was talked about in literature influenced its development, especially as culinary tourism (Guide Michelin in hand) began to take shape as well. At least, so says friend of Fooditor Richard Shepro in a video talk produced in his own posh kitchen.


Six new cookbooks with Chicago connections, including Japanese cocktails by Julia Momose, a dumpling cartoon-cookbook from Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan, and—this one still floors me—a different guy named Nick Kokonas mixing drinks (no Porthole necessary).


If you feel inclined to whomp on tiki bars for existing, as I talked about last week, Eater Chicago finally dives into Shelby Allison, Chicago Style, Lost Lake, and tiki culture. By the end of the long piece, tiki (which at most goes back to the 1930s, and really the postwar 1950s) is blamed for everything since Columbus first set sail—rum and slavery, racism, colonialism, cultural appropriation… look, I know some of the kids really enjoy painting themselves as holier than thou on subjects like this, but is anyone not bored with this kind of woke pecksniffery, or at least a little appalled when a non-Chicagoan (Ashtin Berry) is recruited to make uninformed slams on establishments they’ve never been to (Fat Rice, at the tail end of the piece). Maybe it’ll get Eater the clicks, but I for one am in the 16th minute of the 15 minutes of regarding everything as cultural appropriation. Maybe I just want a fruity drink with an umbrella, and don’t plan on oppressing anybody in the process. I mean, I could try to make an argument that Lost Lake’s new “tropical” theme, which takes in the slaveholding Caribbean, is actually more racist than tiki, which comes out of America liberating the South Pacific from imperialist Japan, but I really find it impossible to want to accept the premises of all this stuff, even for the purposes of hoisting it with its own petard.

After reading about the new, personality-deleted Lost Lake on the Facebook group ChicagOhana, I poked around in it a little and found that there’s a pretty new tiki bar, Kahala Koa, in Arlington Heights, where woke food media doesn’t reach. They have a menu of tiki classics, attributed to the bars where they were invented. Anybody want to join me for a Green Menehune one of these nights?